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M Forward

On the day I’m writing this column, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the 1864 law on abortion, a near-complete ban, is now the law. This is horrible, and the details and the response (for instance to redouble efforts to get AAA petition signatures) will be expanded on by many sources. While shocking, the decision by our state supreme court was not deeply surprising, since the court is known to be quite conservative. But it does bring up a question: What is “conservative”? Is it favoring low taxes, or is it being fiscally responsible? Or is it opposing freedom for women and minorities? Or more generally, is it, “your ideas don’t match my ideas, so my ideas win”?


Conservative vs liberal ain’t what it used to be. If conservatism used to refer to minimizing the reach of government, why would conservatives in the legislature or the state supreme court want to impose their will on the reproductive freedom of millions of women? And it’s not just about abortion. Here in Arizona, we also have a huge budget deficit. This is partly due to tax cuts, partly due to ESAs, and partly due to last year’s big giveaways to legislators’ pet projects. Why do so-called conservatives promote so many bills to overrule local decisions, and to reduce individual freedom (unless it’s about guns)?


It’s not unusual for a word to change its operational meaning. For instance, as language historian Anne Curzan points out, “nice” used to mean “silly, foolish, simple.” And political language is no different. Much as the Republican Party has morphed many times (particularly from its noble start as the anti-slavery party), many of the words associated with it have conveyed something quite different over time. And I find this to be particularly relevant in our state today.


I had always thought “conservative” meant a tendency to resist change. And a conservative force opposing change can often hurt people. Conservatives who opposed the advancement of civil rights in the 50s and 60s (often Democrats) were certainly on the wrong side of history. And legislation that can reduce income inequality is often opposed by conservatives (often Republicans) who might think that such inequality is natural, even Darwinian.


On the other hand, it certainly is prudent to understand the downside for any proposal. Constructive criticism can improve decision-making. Unilateral decision processes entail risks, which can be reduced when a “loyal opposition” seeks out flaws in our argument for change. In other words, the open-minded can often benefit from a thorough testing of their ideas.


So, in principle, “conservatives” could have a valuable role in developing change that can benefit us all. But is that what the current, supposedly conservative party, provides? There’s little evidence for this.


On the contrary, today’s Republican Party, in addition to now being a cult for a malignant narcissist, has shown itself willing to shift its governing philosophy opportunistically. For death-dealing weapons like assault rifles, it holds individual rights to be sacrosanct; but when it concerns women’s bodily freedom, the Republican Party has no problem pushing for Big Government intervention. It favors legislation to reduce regulations on individuals with small businesses; but then it favors radical reduction in regulations that protect those same individuals from dangerous chemicals in their food or air. It promotes the ability of some individuals (such as those who want to ban books) to restrict the freedom of others (parents who want their children to be well-read.)


In short, both in Arizona and nationally, we lack a significant organized movement that promotes thoughtful hesitation about proposed improvements. At the moment, nearly all such constructive hesitancy, along with the impetus for progress, is contained within the “big tent” of the Democratic Party, as well as in the millions of unaffiliated voters. The Republican Party has become a malignant force, one that resists positive change while remaining unwilling to enter a constructive dialog. We can only hope that failure after failure will have its effect, and perhaps provide for a resurgence of thoughtful dialog about future changes, both for our state and our country.


I’m a liberal, but I want to hear serious conservative arguments, not nonsense or fascistic overreach. Good luck with hearing that thoughtful opposition from the current Republican Party.


We can only hope that women’s reproductive freedom will be honored again in our state (and throughout the country). The petition for abortion rights is our best chance now for this in Arizona. Let’s get those signatures! And work to elect better legislators!


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